airplane

Photo: The Shane H via Flickr

While most of the climate negotiations in Bonn have been focused on key issues around the overall agreement, as I’ve discussed here and here, there has also been some side discussions on other key issues. I’ve been involved in a couple of discussions (outside the formal negotiations) around how aviation will contribute to efforts to solve global warming.

The aviation industry has had a mandate under the International Civil Aviation Organization to develop a policy framework to reduce their global warming pollution since 1998, but has made only minor progress. Some progress has occurred in the European Union where they recently finalized their plans to require that all flights to and from the EU will be required to reduce their global warming pollution. But progress has been very limited in other regions.

How global aviation emissions are addressed in the agreement in Copenhagen has gained some traction in the negotiations.

I participated in an aviation symposium in Geneva, Switzerland the other day where I was on a panel to discuss economic frameworks for driving solutions in the aviation sector. I used to actively work for solutions to aviation’s emissions, so after participating in these recent events I was struck with two points.

There is a growing momentum for clean energy and global warming solutions across the world — as a part of US efforts (e.g., the beginning of the US “sprint”), global efforts for a strong agreement in Copenhagen, and elsewhere. These efforts are working towards a transformation to clean energy with significant cuts in global warming pollution in the medium to long-term. So when I see graphs put up by the aviation industry showing continued growth of their emissions through 2030 (and presumably beyond) I have to scratch my head … as I saw in Geneva. How does this growing emissions path for aviation fit in with the world’s efforts to spur clean energy and global warming solutions? Somewhere there is a disconnect.

I was also struck with how little had changed in the 4 plus years that I have been basically “out of the aviation emissions debate”. I heard things like: the aviation industry is working on a solution, we have done a lot to decrease our energy use over the last 70 years, and we don’t need a policy framework to address our emissions. I heard many of these same things 4 years ago. Each of these statements was a mixed perspective (yes, but). The reality is that despite some progress on a couple of fronts, more clearly needs to be done so that aviation is reducing its absolute global warming — not going in the opposite direction.

But I also participated in an event at the global warming negotiations in Bonn, Germany put together by the Aviation Global Deal group. This group, made up of four of the world’s largest airlines and the Climate Group, discussed their proposal for how aviation’s global warming pollution could be addressed in the Copenhagen agreement. This group discussed a proposal to apply a cap on global warming pollution from the international aviation sector. It would also be designed to generate revenues to support adaptation, deforestation reductions, and technology in developing countries. These airlines provide some hints that there are voices in the aviation industry that recognize that they need to be part of the solution to global warming…not simply “waiting”.

There was also discussion of a proposal to apply a levy on each airline flight to generate funding to support the most vulnerable developing countries in adapting to the impacts of global warming. This proposal from 49 of the world’s poorest countries has gained some interest in the negotiations as a way to support efforts to address adaptation. It could generate some much needed funding to support adaptation in the most vulnerable countries.

While the details of each of these proposals differ to some extent, their mere existence suggests that the world (and the aviation industry) might finally support an effort to reduce their global warming pollution.

Let’s hope that some solutions to these emissions will be included in the Copenhagen agreement. After all, we can’t wait for the possibility of future solutions to emerge from other forums.

Cross-posted from the Natural Resources Defense Council Switchboard.